Green skills and what this means for our sector

Dr Adam Read
by Dr Adam Read, Chief Sustainability and External Affairs Officer | SUEZ recycling and recovery UK
This blog was originally posted by EfW Net.

Every couple of months I discuss the big issues facing the sector from my point of view, and this time I will look at green skills and competencies that the power, energy and resource sectors need to contribute to the decarbonisation of the UK economy.

Green skills rock

Those of you who know me will be well aware that I like to talk about green skills and their importance to the transition of the waste & resource sector to a sector that is low carbon, resource efficient and more circular at any opportunity. In this blog, I will look at the skills and competencies that the power, energy and resource sectors need to contribute to the decarbonisation of the UK economy successfully. I will also explore why planning for them now is critical to our existence.

Green skills interest on the rise

Back in 2020, there was little talk of green skills in any sector, but within 12 months that had changed. Many sectors realised that if they didn’t plan their decarbonisation transitions properly and the associated workforce recruitment, they could fall short of expectations. My CIWM Presidential Report looked at the green skills needed to deliver a more circular economy, whilst the Government set up its Green Skills Task Force to visualise what future sector demands might be on the education system and the training provision across several priority sectors.

In the last week, COP28 had a number of sessions on green skills, but that’s a far cry from COP26, when the event in Glasgow had little on the main or fringe agendas covering green skills (beyond that which the CIWM and SUEZ hosted).

But things have changed quickly - the Task Force has now become the Green Jobs Delivery Group, tasked to represent all sectors with significant transformation requirements to decarbonise (power, energy, manufacturing, transport and waste), determine what skills and competencies will be needed by each, and the scale of new entrants. I represented the waste and resource sector on this esteemed body, co-chaired by the Rt Hon Graham Stuart, Minister of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, and Michael Lewis, Chief Executive Officer at Uniper. Three other Ministers were involved, representing DEFRA, DfT and DWP.

During the last 12 months, the working groups have been actively gathering data, undertaking workforce assessment at a sectoral level, and developing detailed action plans to ensure the skills needed across all sectors are built into training and academic courses. The group has also hosted 20 deep dive workshops with hundreds of participants to review draft policy proposals and action plans, to test assumptions on numbers, competencies and demand, and to reflect on issues like available training provision and the wider concerns of inclusion and diversity. All of this is culminating in a governmental report due in Q1 2024, which should help provide some guidance on major areas of concern, such as re-inventing the apprenticeship levy & delivery programme, improving the narrative around green jobs to make them attractive to all people and sectors, supporting SMEs with their skills acquisition and retaining needs, and the importance of better data on our workforce, including their skills and competences from which we can plan future support and interventions as we push back against climate change. Watch this space.

So let’s talk!

It is clear from the work by the Power, Energy and Waste Working Groups that a huge amount of change is coming to our sectors. From the technologies we use to the size and location of the facilities and the networks they serve. There is already a shortage of engineers of all disciplines, and our sectors aren’t always top of the desirability list for graduates. However, given the size of the opportunity in terms of new facilities and the technologies employed, the localisation of many of the solutions means we will also face a shortage of construction, commissioning and project management practitioners in the short to medium term. Add the need for a huge upturn in regulators, planners and permitters, plus site managers, supervisors, and delivery teams, there is a real risk that if our sectors don’t get their narrative right and quickly, we could lose out to careers in renewables or more high-tech sectors which would undermine the decarbonisation efforts.

That’s why the EfW Conference in March 2024 will have sessions dedicated to the green skills and competencies agenda. I will be hosting a series of conversations about the work of the Green Jobs Delivery Group and its recommendations for providing the workforce of tomorrow for sectors like ours. We will hear about the workforce planning already underway in our sector as businesses look to prepare for transitions in technology selection, site identification, project commissioning and new build. We will investigate the work that the CIWM and its Skills for Tomorrow Working Group have been doing to understand the transition demands of the waste and resource sector and what this will mean in terms of priority jobs, key skills, and new competencies needed. These sessions will get to the heart of the issue for future successful decarbonisation policy delivery and sector implementation – funding, sites and, of course, people.

So, if you are concerned about the future of your project pipeline, or the pull of our sector compared to others for new graduates and highly skilled technicians, then we will have a session or 2 just for you.

In the meantime, you should start to look at your workforce and ask yourself, are they ready to do things differently? And please get in touch if you want to feed into the Green Jobs Delivery Group or the CIWM Skills Working Group – we need all the insight and support we can get!

See you in March, and may I take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

QUESTION - Are you confident you have the workforce in place and the recruitment and training strategies ready to meet the changing demands of the sector?

Find the discussion thread here.